Drugs: new psychoactive substances and prescription drugs - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  Chief Constables and other law enforcement agencies are failing to understand the impact of psychoactive substances. We are deeply concerned that there is not enough data collated by each local police area regarding the usage and effect of these types of substances. We recommend that police forces start a process of data collection immediately in order to have established, within 6 months, the challenges they face locally. This will enable them to develop an effective strategy in tackling the problems presented by psychoactive substances, both in pursuing those who are selling substances which may contain illegal drugs and also producing an appropriate education strategy for potential users. (Paragraph 7)

2.  We conclude that there is currently an epidemic of psychoactive substances and it is highly likely that the creation of new psychoactive substances will continue to increase in the future unless immediate action is taken. (Paragraph 9)

3.  We congratulate the work done by the Angelus Foundation on raising the profile of the problems associated with psychoactive substances and educating others about the risks. However, we believe that there should be more engagement between the Government and the Foundation and that either the Home Secretary or Norman Baker, the new Minister with responsibility for drugs, should meet with the organisation. Education of young people is crucial in order to prevent further deaths from psychoactive substances. We recommend that schools and colleges extend the current educational sessions they run on drugs policy with effective evidence-based sessions. (Paragraph 12)

4.  It is clear that simply controlling new psychoactive substances under current legislation will not work. We welcome the Government's announcement that they are going to review other countries' systems and the Minister will be recalled to the Committee in 4 months time to give a full account on the potential costs and benefits of introducing these types of regulatory system within the UK. We believe that the burden of proof ought to be removed from enforcement authorities and placed on those who are selling the new psychoactive substance. The Home Office should introduce a new legislative model, taking into account the benefits of other systems in use abroad. The new model should shift the evidential responsibility, of proving the safety and the non-narcotic purpose of a substance, onto the seller for all new psychoactive substances. It should also be specifically related to the new psychoactive substances problem and not impinge on current legislation which controls illicit drugs. (Paragraph 14)

5.  We welcome the use of alternative legislation to prosecute suppliers of new psychoactive substances and congratulate West Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service on their use of the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 to secure convictions of two suppliers of new psychoactive substances—the innovative use of such legislation is to be commended. We also commend all of those involved in Operation Burdock and would highlight the cohesive nature of such an operation. Until the law has been amended we expect to see similar operations taking place as the benefits of such an approach are clear and we will be writing to every Police and Crime Commissioner to highlight the work done on this case. We are concerned by the length of time it has take the Government to produce guidance on the use of alternative legislation. When new substances are emerging at a rate of more than one a week, taking twelve months to produce a five page note is an unacceptably slow reaction time. The use of alternative legislation, however, in order to cover this increasingly blurred legal area is insufficient. The Government's inability to establish an effective legislative response is indicative of its sluggish response to this problem. The issue of new psychoactive substances is unique and needs an immediate and tailored response. We recommend that any new legislation, brought in to address the problem of 'legal highs', is specific and focused. The law must ensure that the police and law enforcement agencies can take action comprehensively against those who sell new psychoactive substances and remove the reliance on existing legislation which is ill-suited to comprehensively tackling this problem. The legislation needs to allow sellers of new psychoactive substances to be prosecuted for an offence which is equivalent in sanction to that of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. (Paragraph 19)

6.  We welcome the news that ACPO and Public Health England are already beginning to plan for the 2014 festival season. We recommend that, as well as raising awareness around the harms that new psychoactive substances can cause, police and trading standards officials also implement a joint operation, testing and monitoring the sale of substances at such events. We recommend that the police introduce quick turnaround mobile laboratory drug testing facilities at these types of event in order to facilitate the removal of potentially harmful or illegal substances from the site immediately. (Paragraph 21)

7.  It is concerning that a year on from the publication of our previous report, which highlighted the lack of knowledge on this subject, there have been no improvements in the understanding or the collection of data around the issue of dependence on prescription drugs. We welcome the announcements that the British Medical Association and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will shortly carry out work examining dependence on prescription drugs. The geographical spread and the scale of the problem must be definitively established. We recommend that the Royal College of General Practitioners produce guidance for GPs who are treating addiction to prescription drugs stating that all cases ought to be recorded on the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System in order to further clarify the prevalence of prescription drug misuse. (Paragraph 25)

8.  We welcome the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction and are deeply concerned by their estimate that there are currently 1.5 million people addicted to these type of drugs, a number which is far higher than those who are in treatment for addiction to controlled drugs. However, we recognise the lack of specific data on the misuse and supply of prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes. We acknowledge the difficulties in collating this type of information due to the sensitivity of medical data, but immediate steps need to be taken to introduce a system whereby anonymous data can be collated to fully understand where the problem lies. When we visited America, as part of our previous inquiry into drugs, we were very worried that significantly more doctors and healthcare practitioners were able to be prosecuted for the illegal supply of prescription drugs there than in the UK. We are concerned that, despite the differences in medical care structures between the two countries, healthcare professionals in the UK are able to supply prescription drugs illegally without fear of prosecution. We recommend that medical practices start an anonymous data collection of those patients who have been proven to be, or a medical professional has reasonable suspicion of being, addicted to prescription drugs and how they are being supplied. This is a first step in the collation of this type of data and we will be writing to medical professionals, such as the BMA, to understand how this best can be implemented and further used. (Paragraph 29)

9.  We conclude that this practice must be formalised in order for it to continue with the structural changes in healthcare in UK. We recommend NHS England should issue guidance to local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which will lead to them taking central responsibility for the collation of data on patients visiting multiple practices to request specific drugs. The administrative part of the CCG should be strengthened in order for them to facilitate sharing this information with all practices and thus informing all healthcare professionals in the area. (Paragraph 30)

10.  There are fewer deaths and criminal acts associated with prescription medicine or new psychoactive substances than with drugs such as heroin or cocaine. There also appears to be a lack of involvement of organised crime groups in the diversion of prescription drugs or the supply of new psychoactive substances. However, we remain concerned that it is an area which is not being tackled. We recommend that the medical Royal Colleges establish a joint working group to assess the effectiveness of their consensus statement and examine whether local area health teams are effectively communicating concerns around individuals visiting multiple practices to request specific drugs following the introduction of the new health service structure. This working group should also be responsible for starting the collection and collation of data by local healthcare practices. Due to the urgency of this issue we will revisit this topic in 6 months time. (Paragraph 32)

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Prepared 20 December 2013